After the turmoil of the Middle age, the Renaissance period brought new hope. It was a time where science blossomed, reason became much more significant than the medieval superstition, and a dogmatic approach to religion became somehow more flexible. Increasing urbanization started taking place and a general zeitgeist was formed in regards to the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy.
The wealthy patrons became much more interested in arts and aside from the walls of state-run institutions or churches, they started commissioning art for themselves. Such a revolution mainly took place in Italian cities where the cultural life blossomed. An entirely new generation of painters appropriated classical models and started developing a linear perspective and other techniques in order to achieve a more natural reality in painting.
One of the leading figures of this fruitful period was an Italian artist Tiziano Vecelli, better known Titian (1488 – 1576). This master is considered the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school, and undoubtedly the most versatile Italian painter, the one who easily shifted from one genre to another remaining quality at the same level. Titian’s immaculate style is characterized by the specific application and use of color which influenced generations of Western artists in the upcoming centuries. His works were not just commissioned by the Italian royalty since the spread of mouth traveled far, so Titan released impressive works for the Habsburgs and papacy.
Titian's style changed with the flow of time; however, the iconic painter kept a devoted interest in color. In brief, his treatment of the painterly surface, the loose brushwork, and subtlety of tone are without the precedent in the entire Western art history.
Editors’ Tip: Titian
This publication presents a catalogue raisonnâe of the oeuvre of an artist who has determined the history of art. It is aimed at both specialised readers and at a wider public.
Featured image: Titian - Self-Portrait, circa 1562 (detail). Oil on canvas, 86 cm (33.8 in) x 65 cm (25.5 in). Museo del Prado. Image creative commons.
The first Titian masterpiece on our top list is Danaë or Danaë and the Shower of Gold. The theme was painted by the artist's workshop in six versions between about 1544 and the 1560s and is focused on the mythological princess Danaë who was isolated in a bronze tower due to a prophecy that her firstborn would eventually kill her father. Despite the fact she was well aware of the consequences, she became infatuated and eventually impregnated by Zeus, who seduced the princess in the form of a shower of gold.
The surviving versions of the painting can be found in Naples, London, Madrid, Vienna, Chicago, and St. Petersburg, while this particular Danaë is being held at Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Featured images: Titian - Danaë with Nursemaid or Danaë Receiving the Golden Rain, 1560s. 129 cm × 180 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Image creative commons.
Bacchus and Ariadne is an oil painting made by Titian around 1522 and 1523. It belongs to a cycle of paintings based on mythological themes produced for Alfonso I d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, or to be more precise for the private room in a palazzo called Camerino d'Alabastro.
Initially, Raphael was commissioned to paint the composition of the Triumph of Bacchus, but before he died he had only made a preliminary drawing. The duke THEN decided to hand the commission over to Titian, who painted Bacchus and Ariadne instead.
This particular artwork is based on writings of the Roman poets Catullus and Ovid and is considered as one of Titian's greatest works. The composition features Ariadne on the island of Naxos, abandoned by her lover the great hero Theseus, whose ship sails away. Then she is approached by the god Bacchus leading a procession in a chariot drawn by two cheetahs. The god is shown in mid-air as he steps out of the chariot to protect Ariadne from the beasts. In the sky above, the figure of Ariadne is the star constellation Corona Borealis (Northern crown).
Bacchus and Ariadne is being held in the National Gallery in London.
Featured image: Titian - Bacchus and Ariadne, 1522–23. Oil on canvas (applied onto conservation board 1968), 176.5 cm × 191 cm (69.5 in × 75 in). National Gallery, London. Image creative commons.
The third masterpiece on our top list made between 1560-1562 by the renowned Italian Renaissance painter Titian is The Rape of Europa. The composition is an actual adaption of the antic myth of the abduction of Europa by Zeus. Titian did not hesitate to produce a scene of rape since Europa is apparently helpless as she is on her back with clothes torn in pieces.
According to the myth, Zeus took over the form of a bull and persuaded Europa to climb onto his back, in order to transport her to Crete where he revealed his true identity. Shortly after, Europa became the first Queen of Crete and had three children with Zeus.
Initially, the painting was commissioned by Philip II of Spain but his successor Philip V of Spain gifted it along with two other paintings (Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto) to the French ambassador, the Duke of Gramont who finally presented them to Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, In 1896 it was purchased by Bernard Berenson on behalf of art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Ever since, The Rape of Europa is being held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, Massachusetts.
Featured image: Titian - The Rape of Europe, ca. 1560-1562. Oil on canvas, 178 cm × 205 cm (70 in × 81 in). Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Image creative commons.
The Pietà belongs to the group of last paintings Titian made. In his will, the painter noted that this piece should be completed by Palma Giovane after his death. Titian imagined for Pietà to hang over his grave, and that is why the composition consists of two stages so it can fit in two different churches. Namely, the inscription in the lower portion of the canvas indicates it was finished by Giovane, who tried hard to minimize his own gestures and achieve the overall effect as much as possible similar as Titian's own style.
The composition is an extended version of the common Pietà theme consisting only of Virgin Mary holding Christ in his arms. Namely, Titian decided to display the two mentioned figures alongside the Nicodemus of the gospels or, as usually thought today, Saint Jerome, kneeling while trying to touch Christ’s hand; the scholars agreed that this might be Titian’s self-portrait. On the left is Mary Magdalene in motion, as if she just arrived into the scene. The last figure in the lower left corner is a young angel picking up an urn. All the figures are juxtaposed against the rusticated Mannerist niche made of three blocks which seem to represent the Holy Trinity, and all the other architectural elements have equally symbolical meaning.
The painting should be considered in regards to the wave of black plague which was swept the Italian towns during that time, sending the painter himself to death in 1576.
The Pietà is being held at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.
Featured image: Titian - Pietà, 1575–1576. Oil on canvas, 389 cm × 351 cm (153 in × 138 in). Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
The last Titian masterpiece on our top list is the iconic Venus of Urbino. According to historical archives, the painting was produced in between 1532 and 1534, but it wasn’t sold until 1538. It features a nude figure of a young woman which stands out as a representation of the goddess Venus lying on a sofa in the environment of a Renaissance palace.
The pose of the figure is inspired by the Dresden Venus painted attributed to Giorgione but completed by Titian. Although it supposed to represent Venus since such a mode of depiction was fashionable at the time, the composition is deployed of any classical or allegorical features and the Venus is painted for her apparent beauty in a sensual and erotic manner.
Venus proudly looks directly at the viewer, while holding a bouquet of roses with one hand and with second covering her genitals. The composition also involves a dog (often a symbol of fidelity) while in the background two maids are displayed as they are sorting up a clothes chest.
According to two dominating interpretations, the painting is considered either as a portrait of a courtesan, perhaps of Angela del Moro, or Angela Zaffetta, the leading courtesan in Venice, or as a painting honoring the marriage of its first owner Ippolito de' Medici.
Titian’s Venus of Urbino is hold in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.
Featured image: Titian - Venus of Urbino, 1534. Oil on canvas, 119 cm × 165 cm (47 in × 65 in). Uffizi, Florence. Image creative commons.